Prana – ask me how it is pronounced accurately in Sanskrit because it has been butchered by the English language. It might now be an overly-priced cotton clothing store or even a fancy yoga word but Prana is the life force – in simple words, the sum total of all energy that when leaves the body, creates the differentiation between life and death. Ayama is to extend or draw out.
Let’s try a quick experiment. Just like how the nurses measure our pulse, let’s measure the number of times we breathe in a minute. Don’t worry – the blog is not going anywhere, I’ll wait until you open the app ‘clock’ on your iPhone. If you know me well, there’s no point arguing with me – just do it!
What was your number? Did you observe that the breathing was quick, short, and shallow? Did your tummy get sucked in and bulge out? Probably not! With no awareness and simply breathing just because it comes naturally, we are creating a habit of shallow breathing. Shallow breathing pumps limited oxygen to limited space utilizing only a fraction of your total lung capacity. It leaves the rest of your lung capacity with old pollutants and toxins – stubborn tenants who wouldn’t leave voluntarily. My mom gave me an analogy. Imagine a pitcher full of water. It sits for a week and attracts dust particles, smoke, and pollution, and even traps a mosquito or two. You pour out only the top half and refill it with fresh water. After a week, you repeat this again and you do this for several weeks – will you drink this water? Probably not. The only way to have clean water every week is to empty out the pitcher completely and refill it with fresh water. In an analogous world, lungs is to oxygen as pitcher is to water.
The first of the 26 poses in Bikram yoga is the Pranayama – an extension of the life force. By inhaling deeply, nourishing oxygen reaches the deepest ends of our respiratory system, clears out the cobwebs, and replaces the pollutants and toxins. It cleanses the lungs, forces a longer stretch of the torso, and influences a more complete cell development.
Our breathing, its speed and depth tells a lot about the state we are in. Prayanama relaxes and coaches us to slow down the overall pace of not only our heart, but also our mind. It brings back the wandering mind, melts away the stress and lets you let go.
Pranayama is learning how to breathe all over again.